Tag Archives: Lawrence

Why I Live in Lawrence KS

I was asked to write about my hometown for the Explore Lawrence website. We moved here from Florida when I was 10 because my father accepted a job at the University of Kansas. He promised we’d stay only two years. You can see how that went. I was bitten by the travel bug when I was very young, probably when I learned my grandmother was born in Austria and I started learning German. I also spent countless hours pouring over issues of National Geographic, always thinking “I want to go there!” In any case, I saw early on that there was a big world out there. My first international trip was when I was 16, courtesy of the Girl Scouts, when I spent a month in Sweden and learned to my delight that scouting was co-ed. I then spent my middle university year abroad in Germany, followed by another year while in graduate school. After a year working as a newspaper reporter in a small Kansas town, I quit and moved back to Germany to begin my career as a travel writer. I’ve been travel writing ever since. As a freelancer, I can live pretty much anywhere, but I moved back to Lawrence many years ago. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t live in another country again someday, but Lawrence will always be my hometown. The link below is what I wrote for why I live in Lawrence KS.

 

I grew up in Lawrence, but typical of restless teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get away. After living most of my twenties and early thirties in Germany and Japan as a freelance travel writer, however, I decided that Lawrence was where I wanted to be. We have wetlands, easy access to lakes and hiking trails, diverse neighborhoods, unique museums, an ever-growing roster of ethnic restaurants and a wide range of festivals and entertainment, making Lawrence pretty much the perfect college town. I’ve been a volunteer at the Lawrence Visitor Center for more than 20 years, which I enjoy because I get to meet people from all over the world and answer questions. You never know what they’re going to ask, which keeps me on my toes. I always recommend the free movie we show at the visitor center about the founding of Lawrence and Quantrill’s raid. I also take my out-of-town guests to the Oread Hotel’s rooftop for the view (our dense canopy of trees makes it look like we’re a people of the woods). I love living only a five-minute walk from downtown, in a 127-year-old house where I can also satisfy my inner urban farmer with a garden and chickens. And when the travel writing life calls, Kansas City International Airport is only a 50-minute drive away. Why would I live anywhere else? Lawrence, after all, really is the center of Google Earth. – Beth #nttw17

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A Kansas Town Remembers a Massacre

It happened just a block from where I live. Men brandishing firearms burst into the home of Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, searched for him in vain (he was hiding in the cellar), plundered the house and then set it on fire.

A year after she saved her husband’s life, Elizabeth Fisher helped found a society to help former slaves.

A year after she saved her husband’s life, Elizabeth Fisher helped found a society to help former slaves.

Flames caused the roof and upper and lower floors to cave in, and yet still, with a six-month-old baby in her arms, Elizabeth Fisher worked furiously to extinguish flames closest to her husband’s hiding place. Then, while pretending to salvage some possessions, she managed to conceal Mr. Fisher with a carpet and drag him over to a weeping willow draped with morning glory. He survived. Others were not so lucky.

Two teenage clerks were killed after being ordered to open the store’s safe. The mayor died as he hid in a well, suffocating from the fire that burned down his house. A judge, married less than a year, was shot; when his young wife tried to shield him from further harm with her body, a guerilla lifted her harm and shot her husband in the head. A German blacksmith, hiding in a cornfield with his young child, was discovered when the child began to cry and was shot to death, the child still in his embrace.

Altogether, about 180 men and teenage boys were killed in the

abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, that fateful morning on August 21, 1863 (the exact number of victims is unknown). The surprise attack by William Clark Quantrill and his band of 400 pro-slavery ruffians from Missouri was the culmination of armed clashes and atrocities that had been committed by both sides of the pro- and anti-slavery conflict, which began after the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act opened Kansas for settlement and intensified in 1861 when Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state just before the Civil War began. When Quantrill and his men rode out of town after four hours of terror, they left behind 85 widows and 250 fatherless children, a downtown that was razed save for a few buildings, and about 185 homes burned to the ground. The

New York Times ran an article about the massacre on its front page.

The former Miller building was one of the few downtown buildings to survive Quantrill’s raid. I used to live on the third floor, where there was once a hall used for social gatherings.

The former Miller building was one of the few downtown buildings to survive Quantrill’s raid. I used to live on the third floor, where there was once a hall used for social gatherings.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the raid, Lawrence is staging a Twitter event on August 21 that will mirror in “real” time true events as they unfolded exactly 150 years ago. Creating the tweets are local residents, who researched diaries, letters, documents and first-person accounts to help them assume the identities of more than 30 people who witnessed or died in the massacre. By the end of the day, it’s hoped that the hashtag #qr1863 will have reached a national or even global audience. People can also follow events online at www.863lawrence.com/twitter/qr1863-live-reenactment.

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary is also a new permanent exhibit at the Watkins Community Museum of History, where visitors can learn about the founding of Lawrence by East Coast abolitionists, the

Lamisha Hollywood-Johnson models a military jacket she made during a summer workshop at Watkins Community Museum of History.

Lamisha Hollywood-Johnson models a military jacket she made during a summer workshop at Watkins Community Museum of History.

Bleeding Kansas years, Quantrill’s raid, the personal histories of victims and survivors, and how the massacre influenced Lawrence’s development into a town noted for its activism. In addition to paintings, photographs, signboards and artifacts, an interactive touchscreen lets visitors trace Quantrill’s route on a map and view documents and pictures relating the stories of that horrific morning.

Other places to learn more about area history is the Lawrence Visitors Center, where there’s a pamphlet outlining a self-driving tour of Quantrill’s raid and a 20-minute film that outlines the town’s founding, the raid and its rebirth, and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area exhibit that centers on the border war between Kansas and Missouri and provides information on historic events and sites in 41 counties in both eastern Kansas and western Missouri. At the University of Kansas Spencer Research Library, a special exhibit running through the fall 2013 semester called “Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival” uses documents, letters and other written accounts to describe the raid and its impact on Lawrence.

Conrad Alternbernd III, whose great-grandfather hid in a cornfield while Lawrence burned, designed a bandana to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the raid.

Conrad Alternbernd III, whose great-grandfather hid in a cornfield while Lawrence burned, designed a bandana to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the raid.

Even local businesses and individuals are commemorating the 150th anniversary. The appropriately named Free State Brewery, for example, came out with a special brew, a Phoenix Rising lager beer, and Conrad Altenbernd produced a bandana decorated with historic photos.

Although a 150th anniversary deserves special recognition, Lawrence actually marks every August with a Civil War on the Western Frontier program, with events that include an opportunity for kids to build a mud fort just like early settlers did, a flashlight cemetery tour of raid victims’ grave sites, and downtown walking tours that bring the raid’s history to life.

A walking tour of downtown Lawrence recounts the raid’s death and destruction. The Eldridge Hotel was burned to the ground.

A walking tour of downtown Lawrence recounts the raid’s death and destruction. The Eldridge Hotel was burned to the ground.

Local historian Katie Armitage, author of “Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill’s Raid,” said that after tracing the lives of about 50 surviving widows to see how they coped without male breadwinners in a frontier town, she grew to respect their strength of character and perseverance in rebuilding their lives. And it’s to the survivors, she added, that we owe remembrance.

Lawrence’s city seal is of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Lawrence’s city seal is of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

“Those who lived through the raid wanted us to know and were determined that we wouldn’t forget,” Armitage said, referring to survivor reunions as late as 1913 and to a monument raised in 1895 in Oak Hill Cemetery where many victims are buried. “They made such an effort, I think it’s our responsibility to remember.”

For more information, go to www.1863lawrence.com.

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